I may as well jump in with my two cents. As a full-time computer consultant for 10 years I've done it all, seen it all. I'm constantly looking for a new and better way, with "better" being defined as simpler and/or more efficient. In the entire area of file organization and management, there seems like a million (and may be!) programs out there that are going to "help" you with this or that. Most, in and of themselves are good or even great. The "free" ones often contain Spyware or bait you to buy the paid versions. In the area of digital imaging, every printer, scanner, and camera comes with some number of programs to help with image or file organization or management; most are the "Lite" versions.
The point is, in the technology world, what's hot today is often forgotten tomorrow, or worse, out of business tomorrow. Sometimes even the VERY best programs are abandoned by being forced out by Microsoft and others. It's survival of the fittest in this industry. It's easy for a programmer to get attention and win awards for the hottest new product, but will they hang in there through thick and thin when competition comes knocking. I have more examples than anyone wants to hear.
So, when you jump at the hottest thing going, either because you saw it advertised or it came "free" with a product, and then invest an entire weekend at best learning how to use it and getting your "stuff" just like you want it (but never 100%), you often find out that months or a year later either your product has been abandoned or you find something that out-glitzes what you had, and back to the drawing board you go.
The worst of ALL digital crimes is using a program that convinces you to use a proprietary format to store your files in, like PaperPort using the MAX file extension. PaperPort is actually a great program for functions other than file management (and I'm not picking on PaperPort, I use it). But, let's say you use it for file management, get all of your folders created and files named all anal-retentively, and change the folder icons to be that of your dog's head or your girlfriend, then you burn all of the folders and files to CD for safe-keeping in a safety deposit. If you have a hard drive crash next month and your 10,000 family photos go bye-bye, you'll be the family hero after you go to the safety deposit box and recover the photos. However, if you have a hard drive crash in 10 years, or you just evolve away from PaperPort, or they get bought out or go out of business, will there BE a program that will be able to read the NON-UNIVERSAL file format of MAX? The chances are EXTREMELY slim that you'll be able to find such a program and if you do, you're back to converting your 10,000 files.
So, all of this leads me to my opinion, and remember it's based on 10 or more years of seeing and trying all sorts of options. Don't use ANY special utilities for file management, use good old Windows Explorer, or "File Manager" as it was called in the frontier days. What you're about to read is a philosophy I've used since just after WWI, when I worked only in DOS mode (right after electricity).
1. A computer's hard drive is nothing but a huge filing cabinet. If you know how to use a filing cabinet, you have no excuse for not knowing how to organize your files.
2. A digital file is a file is a file, be it a Word file, Excel file, music file, video file or picture file, just like in the paper world a photograph and a resume' still have to be filed in that filing cabinet.
3. Do NOT use "My Documents" as your main file respository, and why? My Documents is part of your "Profile," and Profiles frequently become corrupt. The reason they are more subject to corruption is they are more secure, especially in XP, where the files in your profile are separated from other users. If your Profile goes, your files go with it. The most common way Profiles get whacked is with uninformed users renaming their username or profile folder for cosmetic reasons, not knowing they just changed the name of King Tut's Vault. If you are HIGHLY vigilent about backing up your Profile and the My Docs stuff, no problem, keep using it, but most people are not and I've heard more crying than I care to about people losing stuff because their profiles became corrupt. In a similar way, I would NEVER save a file or folder on the Desktop as someone suggested. The Desktop is also part of the Profile. Only shortcuts to folders and files should be there. Desktops are even more likely to become corrupt and out go your files again.
4. Create a master data folder at the top of your folder tree called "_DATA" where the underscore forces it to the top of the tree for convenience. If you have a separate partition on your drive, or the best of all worlds a separate physical drive, use THAT for this "_DATA" folder, so "data" is separated from operating system (more opportunity for corruption.
5. Consider this "_DATA" folder your brand new filing cabinet for everything you know about everything. Almost all programs allow you to redirect your default data path, where you can redirect it to this master folder. For example, Quicken defaults to store its data file in the Quicken program folder, a HUGE no-no. Redirect it to "C:\_DATA\FINANCIAL\QUICKEN". Continue on setting up folders as you would your filing cabinet drawers, dividers, folders and files. Start with HUGE categories like BUSINESS & PERSONAL. Then under PERSONAL maybe HOUSE, SCHOOL, FAMILY and so on, you get the idea. Since this thread started by asking about images, off of the root "_DATA" have a folder called IMAGES and subdivide it with the same methodology.
6. As for keeping FILES, including images, organized by when you acquired them, as someone mentioned, you can indeed sort them by Modified or Created Date. However, this only works if you don't later open the file, edit it (even with a space or pixel change), and save it again. Instead, include in the file name how you want them sorted. For example, if you have a folder called FAMILY under the folder IMAGES inside the "_DATA" folder (filing cabinet), create a folder called JETHRO. Under that folder, create folders beginning with the year like "2005-VACATION," "2005-SCHOOL," "2005-SPORTS," and "2005-MISC." Then under "2005-VACATION" put your files and rename them (from your camera's default names of "0000001.jpg," etc.) to Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg, Jethro-Beach-Surfing.jpg, Jethro-Beach-Hang Gliding.jpg, etc.
7. Once you're in the bottom folder (2005-VACATION in our example), to save you having to type "Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg" and the other names over and over, when you're in "FILE SAVE AS" mode from your camera or wherever, carefully click ONCE on the last file you named (Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg), then that file name will appear as the name you want to name the 2nd file you're importing. Before you hit the SAVE button, edit the file name to remove the word "Sleeping" and replace it with the word "Surfing" then SAVE and you're off to the next one, and you're creating a VERY consistent (for the anal-boys out there like me), and retrievable system.
Remember, this system is no different than ANY good filing person would create in a filing cabinet. A good filing system dictates that a stranger could walk up to the filing cabinet and with 1 or 2 seconds find what they are looking for. This has worked for me in the paper world, the DOS computer world and now the Windows world.
Oh, last, try not to be too idiosyncratic with your system. You'll either lose yourself or someone else that's trying to help you (like in an office). In the filing world, vanilla is best.
Sorry if this is too long, but I assure you it works, it will save you a LOT of time and misery, and in 10 years you'll be calling to thank me.
All the best, Jay...